Posted in Uncategorized

Mages Are Radios: Tuning In To Magic Frequencies

Here’s a quick setting and magic system for a rules-light game like Fate Core or Fate Accelerated.

In a nutshell, there are spirits in various towns or islands that emit unique magical frequencies, and mages are like radios, able to tune into those frequencies.

The game is set on an archipelago where each island has a genius loci (spirit of the place) that emits a magical frequency of a particular type (fire, water, birds, the dead, illusions, strength, etc.).  Mages are attuned to the island spirit from where they were born. That spirit’s frequency is strong even when the mage travels far away from their birth island.

Usually, however, the closer a mage gets to an island spirit, the more easily they can tune in to its magical frequency. Island spirits each have a token: an item, substance or ritual that acts like an antenna for mages. Use the token and the mage can access the spirit’s signal even from afar.

This creates cool quest fodder for mages. Say a mage is born on a water-attuned island and then travels to the island of a fire spirit. All the local mages on that island have some sort of fire power and the animals and environment are even attuned to the local spirit. And in comes the water mage, able to strongly access water (though not as strongly as at home). She might be feared or hated or an object of fascination on the fire island.

Add to that the spirit quest: if water mage could be there seeking out the fire spirit’s token. Obviously that is a quest in itself. If they gain the token, then they gain fire power. Which could be useful in their travels. It could also let them make steam, by combining their powers.

You could even add to this the idea that spirits can commune with attuned mages. What if all the ice-attuned mages suddenly felt compelled to journey back to the frozen island to witness a great event that they don’t yet understand.

Islands in between other island have an overlap of powers too. So, maybe not every island has a powerful spirit, and a small island between the fire and water islands is ruled by a small steam spirit.

Finally, the technology of the setting: with the analogy of spirits and mages being like frequencies and radios, it makes sense that radios would exist in the setting itself. I imagine dirigibles in a Lady Blackbird sort of setting, tuning the ship’s radio into distress calls, weather forecasts, even spirit forecast with islands moving like planets: “Vulcanus is moving in toward the Elysian island. Beware of high fire danger in the surrounding areas”.

This is  just an idea I came up with organically, but I think there’s potential here. Feel free to use the ideas and if you do, I’d love to hear about it.

Posted in Tools & Techniques

Savage Worlds with Aspects Revisited

I was asked if I could share my experience using the system I outlined in Savage Worlds with Aspects. It was a well timed question, as my wife and I are just reworking how we approach aspects in our new Savage Worlds campaign. I thought my response would get pretty long – and I was right – so I’ve made it a brand new post, rather than just a comment on that old post. So, here we go.

To be perfectly honest, we haven’t been using the aspects properly. I wrote this system and we implemented it but it’s mostly just used for re-rolls and we only really burn through bennies during tough combats, so compels are easily forgotten.

However, they’ve always been in the back of my head and I have learnt a lot from implementing them but not fully utilising them. We have also just started a new campaign recently and we want to make good use of the aspects. So, I am writing this post as a manifesto of things I’ve noticed that I should be doing more and some pitfalls we’ve encountered. Hopefully it’ll be helpful to anyone else hoping to run a non-FATE game with aspects.

Be Aspect-Aware

Our main problem is we just are having so much fun playing that we forget about aspects. We haven’t played FATE-like games very much, so it’s easy to slip into old habits (especially when the system, Savage Worlds, works fine without them).

Using aspects requires awareness on both sides. The players need to invoke their aspects often and request bennies for ‘self compels’ (playing to an aspect which would lead to trouble without the GM compelling it). The GM needs to compel the players’ aspects often and remind them when invoking could be useful. Having a list of all their aspects really helps.

A great way to remember about aspects is to make them exciting or catchy, like the example in Spirit of the Century, which replaces Strong with Strong as an Ox, and finally the best incarnation: “No one is stronger than HERCULOR!!”.

Don’t have too many aspects, either, and combine where possible. I suggested 5-10 per character originally. 10 each could be too many, if you’ve got several players. For one, it’s probably okay. Mostly, the same aspects will come up over and over with the rest used occasionally. You’ll find which aspects you do and don’t use through play. We had “Amnesia” and “Haunted by Significant Dreams” as two aspects for the current character, but seeing as they’re related we’ve combined them into “Amnesiac Haunted by Significant Dreams”.

Make Aspects Matter

Something I’ve noticed is that the aspects work much better if they’re well-thought out and if there are some solid ones from the very beginning that are core to the character. Last time we introduced them part way through the campaign and it only sort-of worked. You should also introduce them due to changes in the fiction, but be careful to make them usable for compelling and invoking. Recently, my wife’s character gained the aspect “Confidant of the King”, which helps her get audiences with him and hear private news from him, but also makes others jealous of her, makes her a target for the King’s rivals, and she can be sent put into danger just by knowing the King’s secrets.

This new character is also a “Foreign Beauty” which draws people to her, but also marks her as not from around here. This lets her invoke it to seduce or charm someone or otherwise draw attention, while I can compel it make her stand out in a crowd. She has had more people ask her where she’s from that she can count.

She had a dream where she chose to follow the path of leadership and physical power. She now bares the  “Mark of the Sword”, which helps her summon weapons from thin air and fight well, but also manifests as a presence that compels her toward battle and foolhardy bravery at times. This works well to invoke for re-rolls in combat and to compel to have her fight when talking might be a better option, etc.

If you’re playing a game with a solo PC, it’ll also make a big difference if the PC has an aspect relevant to combat. This is because they can then re-roll missed attacks using a benny, rather than only being able to get a plus one and not re-roll at all. When you’re alone in combat, being able to re-roll can make all the difference.

Aspects shouldn’t all be good or all be bad. Think about the situations you the aspects could be used in. If you can think of a few interesting ways they can be compelled and a few interesting ways they can be invoked, you’re set. If it’s hard to see how you’d use an aspect, maybe you need to scrap it or reword it somehow. Sometimes aspects will sound awesome but actually be pretty difficult to use. Just review them once you’ve come up with them and again after the first few sessions.

Tagging Aspects & The Environment

Scene aspects or environmental aspects are an important feature that was underused in our previous campaign. Now, I want to start every scene by jotting down a few notes about the scene aspects, using similar words as what I’m describing to the players. So, when the player arrives for a midnight duel at the old ruined tower clinging to a windy seaside cliff face I jot down Crumbling Tower, Dark, Windy, Long Way Down. Now, during the ensuing duel the player can tag these aspects for an advantage.

I would advise that when teaching this system to players, the GM should jot down the aspects on index cards and put them in the open between you, so everyone can see them. It reminds the players that they are in an exciting dynamic location, not standing still in a 10×10 room beating each other with swords. If the aspects are out in the open, players unfamiliar with the idea of aspects are much more likely to use them, and it reminds you as a GM too.

One more example: the King’s fiance as requested you to attend her for the day. You arrive and discover that she is a harsh, stubborn, self-entitled mistress, feared and hated by her servants. Remind the PC that the queen-to-be has aspects that can be tagged. In this example, some are pretty obvious: Stubborn, Self-Entitled, Soon to be Queen. Another one the PC deciphered was something along the lines of “Too Good For This Place” and she used this to help her convince the queen-to-be to head back to her own country where people would respect her and pander to her more.

Temporary Aspects

In the above example the PC probably has some temporary aspects on her now too, like “In the Presence of Royalty”. I can compel this one really often, giving her bennies to obey the queen-to-be’s demeaning commands and smile politely as she berates her servants. This rewards the PC but also gives the queen-to-be more power in her realm.

I like the idea of NPCs (and PCs) having a “On Home Turf” aspect when they are in their element (the queen-to-be in her palace, a gang leader in his hideout, a captain on his ship). Giving the PC or NPC this aspect means even if they’re otherwise equally matched, they have an advantage because they know the area or have power here.

Moving onto conditions, Savage Worlds already has the ‘shaken’ condition, so making that also an aspect that others can tag is pretty harsh. I think it’s either one or the other here: it stops them acting properly, or it can be tagged. Not both. However, aspects work well for other things with no mechanics like being Entranced, or having a Busted Leg, or being Lost. If something like this applies to a PC or NPC, tell them they have that aspect until they can rid themselves of it. Sometimes, that’ll be easy and an in game action can do it – like jumping in a lake to remove the aspect, On Fire. Sometimes, it’ll last until they leave the scene, sometimes even after that.

Changes to ‘Savage Worlds with Aspects’

In addition to the above changes of practice, I might also change the refresh rule to be closer to official FATE:

When a refresh occurs, players bring their number of fate points ”’up to”’ 5. If they have more, their total does not change.

This is mainly because with a single player we sometimes dip too low if a fight is going poorly, especially as bennies are used to soak as well.

Also, sometimes, a player will do something awesome in-character that has nothing to do with any of their aspects. Going just on the rules of FATE, I can’t reward this with bennies, but Savage Worlds says:

The Game Master may also give you more Bennies for great roleplaying, overcoming major obstacles, or even entertaining everyone with an outlandish action, side-splitting comment, or other memorable act.

I like rewarding and encouraging this sort of behaviour, I’ve added that back in as an additional way to gain bennies. I don’t think it’ll blow things out too much, and it’ll reward good roleplaying as well as good use of aspects (so the characters can move beyond those words and phrases that define them and still be rewarded).

Finally, I would keep any Edges (and perhaps Hindrances) that have a mechanical effect other than a straight +/- 2. Like, the Berserk edge which is a whole little power of its own, and the Arcane and other casting edges. But things like Attractive, I would just change to aspects.


If using aspects with Savage Worlds works out well (or not) for me over the next little while as we play this new campaign, I’ll post my findings.

Where to go from here? Well, we are going to readjust my wife’s aspects, adding, removing and rewording where necessary. I’ll keep a list of them handy during play, and I’ll work out a list of some scene aspects that come up fairly often, or even just prompts that I can fill in. I may post this if it proves useful.

I’ll also have an index card reminding me to tag and compel. I’ll try to adjust my thinking so that each scene and person has at least an aspect or two. To start with we’ll work with aspects in the open, for the most part, to remind ourselves to use them. Hopefully, all of that will help us make the most of adding aspects to our game.

If anyone has any other questions, tips or comments on using aspects, please comment below. I’m happy to discuss. And thanks LordOrlando for inspiring this post and getting my me thinking on aspects again.

Posted in Tools & Techniques

Savage Worlds with Aspects

EDIT: I revisited this article in 2012, and made some revisions.

In the Demonsea campaign I’m running for my wife, we’re using Savage Worlds. It’s a great system, and one of my new favourites. I like the Hindrances and Edges, but we found that choice there can sometimes be a bit limited and the ones my wife had picked for her character ended up not being very relevant. I know we could have changed them or made up our own, but that didn’t really excite us.

Instead, when we went to advance her character again we decided to try ditching Hindrances and Edges and incorporating Aspects, from FATE-based games like Spirit of the Century and The Dresden Files RPG. Now, I know this may be blasphemy to some, but we wanted to give it a shot. I’ve read a lot about SotC and DRPG, but haven’t yet had the chance to run either, so this was also like a test-run for using Aspects.

Below are my house rules for adding Aspects to Savage Worlds. I took a lot of inspiration for these house rules from posts herehere and from Strands of Fate, here.

Savage Aspects

  • Remove all hindrances and edges or use the same names, but treat them as aspects.[1]
  • During character creation, every character receives 5-10 Aspects.
  • Each session, players start with 5 Bennies, no matter how many they ended last session with.
  • Bennies can only be used in the following ways:
    • Gain a Bonus – A benny can be spent to add 1 to any roll of the dice (except damage)
    • Invoke an Aspect – If appropriate, an aspect can be invoked, allowing the player to:
      – Re-roll all the dice just rolled, using the new result, or
      – Add 2 to the final die roll (after any re-rolls have been done).
    • Tag an Aspect – A benny can be spent to invoke an aspect other than the characters’ (this could be an aspect on another character, the environment, a weapon, or other things of dramatic importance)
    • Make a Declaration – A benny can be spent to declare a fact. If the GM accepts it, it will be true.
  • Bennies can only be earned through accepting compels. The GM can compel one of the character’s aspects by offering the player a choice: the player can act in accordance with the aspect to gain a benny, or the player can spend a benny to ignore the aspect. The only other way to gain bennies is through the refresh to 5 bennies at the start of each session.
  • Persistent Aspects are aspects that are “free-taggable”, are considered “always on” and cover such things as deep darkness and taking cover. Aspects like these impact so heavily on a situation that they are considered always in effect and bennies do not need to be spent to invoke such aspects.[2]


[1]  Alternatively, remove all hindrances and edges that do not give a mechanical benefit or penalty, and those that only give +2 or -2. If you wish to use such hindrances or edges, treat them as aspects. Also treat those hindrances and edges that remain as aspects. For example, someone who is Filthy Rich receives extra funds, but also has Filthy Rich as an aspect. The Lucky aspect should not grant an extra benny.

[2] Persistent aspects in Savage Worlds may add more or less than +2 to a roll depending on the situation. For instance, invoking Dim Light gives a +1 to Stealth checks, while invoking Pitch Darkness gives a +4 to Stealth Checks. Persistent aspects can also be invoked by the GM. For instance, if a PC is attempting stealth while running, the Running persistent aspect should be invoked by the GM to grant +2 to opposing Notice checks (mechanically equal to granting a -2 penalty to the PC’s Stealth checks).

So, those are the rules we’ve started using. It’s only been a few sessions so far, but the aspects have been invoked and compelled a lot more than the hindrances and edges were ever used. Furthermore, the aspects say a lot more about the character and what the player wants from the game and story. It’s working for us so far. She has aspects like “But I’m Pregnant!”, Skin of My Teeth, Black Sheep of the Noble Merricks, and Tough & Sexy. We’re getting a lot out of them, so far.

I want to now talk a little bit about the removal of Hindrances and Edges and give some explanation about the Persistent Aspects. Hindrances and Edges are fairly well linked into Savage Worlds, but I think they are pretty easily ignored, too. I’ve never found a problem with not using them.

I favour stripping out the entire sub-system and replacing it with Aspects, rather than keeping some of the aspects there. If you do that, you get things like the Filthy Rich aspect granting you extra funds and working just like a normal aspect. It’s not game breaking, but it certainly could be seen as a much more advantageous aspect than others.

Persistent Aspects are an idea I only encountered recently, in Strands of Fate. I searched for and discovered the idea after running into a problem early on. In our game, my wife’s character has a shadow demon inside her. It’s powers only work when in the dark. She also sneaks around in shadow a lot now. She asked me whether she had to spend a benny every time she rolled to get the benefit of the darkenss.

Now the answer is, not really. If she rolled high enough, she wouldn’t need to spend a benny. But if she didn’t roll high enough, then, yes, she’d have to spend a benny so that the darkness would shroud her from view. We both found this very jarring, especially for this character.

I like the idea of persistent aspects and feel like it gives you something to play around with. If she’s fighting pirates during the “Darkest Hour of Night” on a “Stormy Sea” then every PC and NPC is going to be able to tag and invoke those aspects, as well as have them compelled against them. To me, that makes a lot more sense for the way we like to game. Rather than the pitch darkness and thrashing sea only impacting on the characters when they spend points to make it so.

That said, I’ve never played a FATE-based game before, so I might be missing something. But in our current Savage Worlds game, persistent aspects make the most sense for us, so we’re giving them a shot. So far, so good.

I like the idea, too, of having a pile of bennies in the middle of the table for players to gift each other (like Primetime Adventures’ Fan Mail), but in a one-on-one game that’s irrelevant, so I haven’t done that yet.

We’ll keep playing using this system and I’ll update you on how it works out (or doesn’t) including any tweaks we add to the system.